Friday Deep- Hit By Pitch

Posted on March 6, 2010


The closest thing that baseball has to being an impressionist painter is keeping score.  One game as recorded in an official scorekeeper’s notebook is a tiny universe- you see  the concrete minutiae of the action, but explained in a foreign language and diagrammed in an unknown script.  It’s like Rembrandt drawing what he heard on the police scanner the night before, using the Rosetta Stone.

For a long time whenever I went to a baseball game I always wanted a program so that I could try to keep score.  I usually lost interest in it by the third inning, either because it frustrated me that I missed something (how did Coleman get on third?) or because I simply gave up trying to master the baffling linguistics of the score-sheet.  But I did love trying.  To this day I remember drawing tiny half- and quarter-diamonds, trying to represent in a 1cm square how a player had singled, stolen second and then been put out at 3rd on a fielder’s choice.  Backwards K’s for a strikeout looking.  ‘FO LF’ for a flyout to left field.  And ‘HBP’, for Hit By Pitch.

There are different HBP’s.  The ball can graze the inside of the uniform as the batter jerks out of the way.  No damage done- in fact it never even touched him- but he takes his base.  Or the batter can be absolutely drilled in the back with a fastball, which produces the kind of ‘thud’ that somehow everyone in the ballpark can hear.  In a bizarre cause-and-effect of onomotopeia, this results in the whole crowd going ‘Ooooooooo’ simultaneously.  Thud- Oooooo, or barely grazed by the ball, it doesn’t change the end product.  The batter takes his base.

I imagine this is probably frustrating for the batter.  No matter what happens when he’s hit by the ball, he goes to first base.  If he’s been plunked by a curveball in retaliation for something that happened earlier in the game to someone else, he goes to first.  If he’s blazed in the ribs by a 95 mph fastball that will leave ‘Rawlings’ written on his abdomen in bruises, he goes to first base.  And if the ball gets away from the pitcher, runs up into his helmet and cracks him in the skull, causing the batter to forget his address, children’s name and forces him out of the game, guess where the pinch runner will be standing?  On first base.  The same first base that goes to a batter who was barely hit at all- tagged by a lazy curveball on the back of the thigh.  It hardly seems fair.  Shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime?  At least two bases for an egregious hit batsmen, and maybe third base for something with malice attached to it.  Yes, that balances things out quite a bit.  Much fairer.

I bring this up mostly because I’ve spent countless hours of my life feeling hit by pitches.  Either I’m standing on first base rubbing my bruises and thinking I should have been awarded second, or I’m sitting in the dugout, grumbling to myself because others were grazed by pitches and got the same first base I got.  ‘Why’re they getting a promotion?  I’ve worked at this company longer’  ‘He’s dating somebody else already?  He just broke up with someone’ or ‘How come they’ve got so much money?  God, I’ve done more good works and given more to charity.’

What it reminds me of is Jesus’ parable of the workers.  In Matthew 20 the Bible records Jesus telling a parable about 3 workers in a vineyard.  They each show up at different times in the day- one earlier, one mid-day, one later.  When the work day is done, they are each paid the same amount.  When confronted by the worker who had worked all day, the vineyard owner replies ‘Am I not allowed to do what I want with what I have?  Or do you begrudge me my generosity?’

I certainly begrudge it sometimes.  God’s generosity is overwhelming when you think about it- good health, enough money, enough status, abilities to enjoy, etc.  And yet there I am, time and again on first base, nursing some bruise and thinking God is unfair.

And yet, he’s not unfair.  He owns everything, and he gives much- but he gives as he chooses, and it is plenty to show us that he loves us.  ‘Am I not allowed to what I want with what I have?’ he asks.  Or more like:  “You on first base, why don’t you trust me?  You’ll have plenty when it all shakes out.  Stop paying attention to everyone else, stop paying attention to your pain and look at me and what I’ve given you.

I told you all this in the parable of the workers.  Or maybe you heard it another way- the parable of the hit batsman.”

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